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Friday, August 29, 2014

Race and My Place

I live in a neighborhood that is a fairly good representation of the city of Cincinnati in terms of its character and racial makeup. I love living in my neighborhood. Not everyone looks alike, not everyone acts alike. In all honesty, there are probably safer places to live.  I feel comfortable having my family here. We are part of this neighborhood and we interact respectfully with our neighbors. Sometimes, I get the impression that many white Christians throughout the U.S. would feel very uncomfortable living in my neighborhood. They may even downright avoid my neighborhood because of its racial makeup. I believe this is a tragedy.

Ferguson has been on the minds of most Americans in the past few weeks.  I have no idea if we will ever know what actually happened the night Mike Brown died. There have been commentaries on both sides of the issue that paint either the cops or the black community as villains in the struggle.  I have no desire to take part in such petty arguments.  Why is it petty? I am not a person living in the community, I am not a business owner in the community, and I have neither lost or gained anything because of this ordeal. Most of the people who are casting judgment on the situation have nothing to gain directly or indirectly by what has happened in Ferguson. Instead, the gains made by such people are usually on an ideological level although it does not escape me that language may be used to subjugate (in various ways, through various methods) people who are different than the speaker.

Why would I bring up such a point?  I want to take more responsibility for my actions as a white man of privilege. I recognize that I have certain privileges merely because I was born a man who was white.  This is what Ferguson has brought to my mind with all the arguing.  As a white person, I have never known what is like to be profiled by the police purely because of my race.  I can go where I want to in this country with little to no fear of reprisal because of the the color of my skin. My skin happens to take on a slightly olive color which may be because of a great-grandfather of unknown ethnicity; he got off the orphan train from New York with an assumed identity and was adopted without a second thought into my family. Other than that, I am clearly a white man.  For years, I've had people share racist jokes with me with the expectation that I would laugh at those who were not of the white race. I don't laugh at those jokes  and they quickly go away because of it, but it is assumed that because of my whiteness I will share in the privilege and power those jokes embody.

The privilege doesn't end there either. Even within the church, I have doors open for me precisely because of my anatomy, sexuality, and gender (all of which happen to be interrelated but distinct things).  If I was a woman, I could not realistically hope to be an elder in the brotherhood I hold most near and dear to my heart. *

I could go on about my privilege and place in society, but I won't. Instead, I want to return to my responsibility. I must take on the role of servant.  This is my responsibility. Any power I have must be used to serve others. Admittedly, some of those people I serve include my family.  The people in my neighborhood are also those I must serve.

(Delacroix's Good Samaritan, which I do not own the rights to but show purely for educational purposes) 

Given the case of Ferguson, Christians must think in the same way. When Jesus was asked about those we are called to serve, he answered with a story.  If my anger is raised about the looting, vandalism, and rioting I must think about who I could serve.  If my anger grows deep and heated because of the actions of the police, then I must find a way to serve them.

Sin has left our society beaten, bruised, and robbed of the beauty God intends for His creation.  As the church, when we come across sin's effects and we react with indifference or angst we do a disservice to the cross of Christ.  We must find a way to serve and love those who are different than ourselves.  We must love them in a sacrificial way.

I am not a black person who was raised in this country. I am not a cop patrolling the streets.  I am not a business owner with a destroyed livelihood. I am a white man and I must love my neighbor.

The love expressed here is not from the principles of Old Testament sapiential literature.** Instead, this is the love of a savior who gave all. It is the love of someone at odds culturally with someone else who decides to sacrifice in order to partake in God's restoration and redemption of creation.

Paul sums up my feelings on responsibility towards race and service to others.

All the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.
I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it. (Philippians 3:8-11 The Message)

I have a place in this world, and it is wherever I can serve others.

*Some people in our brotherhood see a sea change happening with women's role in ministry and possibly in eldership.  At this point, I am trying to be faithful to scripture and not comment on anything other than the reality that women currently are not welcome as elders in our brotherhood. 
**I believe Christians can and should support the government in the way that Paul upheld in the NT, especially in Romans. However, I believe we are also paradoxically called to a life of subversion. This life is epitomized by Christ-like servant-hood to which is the essence of kingdom living.  

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